A hospitable place

By Bill Lang

BEING STILL

Lord, make our hearts a place of peace
and our minds harbours of tranquility.
Sow in our souls true love for you
and for one another;
and root deeply within us
friendship and unity,
and concord with reverence.

So may we give peace to each other,
even while we are separated,
with sincerity
and receive it beautifully.

(From A Wee Worship Book, Iona Community)

PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS

God of grace, you have promised new life,
yet we continue to focus on those old ways
which are so comfortable and seductive. 

We are so good at fooling others
that we are convinced we can trick you as well. 

We have been called to walk with you,
and run down those paths paved with foolishness and fears.
God of steadfast love, forgive us.
You have claimed our lives,
so we might be set free and be raised to new life. 

Just as you save us, so give us the strength to be willing
to take up whatever task you give us,
and the faith to be willing to lose our lives for others,
so we might find life forever with you,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. 

Assurance of Pardon
This is the good news: 
God hears our prayers, our cries, our hearts. 
And, in Christ, we receive new life. 
We are free, free to walk in the Light of the Lord.
So, this is what we will do. 
We will open our hearts to God’s grace;
we will live as people who have died to sin
and who live for Christ.  Amen.

A READING FROM THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW:
Matthew 10: 40-42

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

REFLECTION: ON HOSPITALITY

Do you have a big table in your home? It is interesting how our tables have been repurposed in these past few months from a place of welcome, of hospitality of meals, to places of work, of planning and for some of us places for our jigsaw puzzles.

Last year we were in Haifa in Israel where we enjoyed a meal in the Druze tradition. The host brought an unending procession of plates: meats, breads and olives, dips and sauces, that despite our protestations of “please – stop,” kept coming. The table was so laden, the staff had to bring another table. The proprietor of the café was beaming with pride at the glorious feast he had prepared. Hospitality and generosity shone in his face, and we felt rude in saying “no more, please.”  

We all love the image of a table laden with food, with guests and friends eating and drinking, sharing, laughing and having a good time. It is a potent image of hospitality.

In these final three verses in chapter 10, Jesus is still teaching his disciples about the cost and meaning of discipleship and now he sends his disciples out, speaking also to those to whom the disciples go. “Welcome them, practice hospitality.” Indeed, Jesus is saying through the disciples directly to us “Your job is to welcome with joy and openness the one who is bringing you the word of grace. You are to make your home their home, and your community their community. And ‘guess what’ you may never really know who that visitor is or when they come.”

Hospitality was not a big feature of my family home, except for festive occasions. But when Jen and I got married, I very quickly learned about hospitality, of welcoming neighbours for meals, of weekly gatherings of friends. If it was up to me, I would probably be a hermit, but of course, it is not up to me.

For Jenny, being hospitable is an essential characteristic of her humanity. It is an amazing, generous, natural, irresistible impulse.

And our Christian faith emphasises neighbourliness, hospitality and generosity over and over again. We see it in familiar parables such as the good Samaritan which concludes with Jesus asking the teacher of the Law the question: “who acted like a neighbour towards the man attacked by the robbers?” To which the response was “The one who was kind to him” And Jesus replied, “Well then, go and do the same.” Luke 10:36-37.

Without hospitality, the early church could not have existed. The travelling missionaries who spread the good news of the gospel had to find somewhere to stay, and there was no AirBnB for them to stay except in the homes of Christians. Not just the well-known either, but again, always the stranger – later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says “I was a stranger and you took me in.”

Henri Nouwen in his book Reaching Out  says “In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbours, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found.” He believes that it is “obligatory for Christians to offer an open and hospitable place where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings.”.

I believe that church health can be linked very directly with hospitality. As the early church could not have existed without it, neither can our present-day church. Many churches are faced with declining and ageing congregations. There are fewer members burning with the fervour of younger years – they did it all forty or fifty years ago. People become dis-abled rather than un-able to evangelise when they are surrounded by a changing, mobile society, with vastly different values from when they grew up.

I think that there has been a great big hole in our lives at this time of COVID-19 restrictions. The opportunities to share meals with others, to visit, to welcome people at our church door every Sunday, to share in fellowship and talk over the things in our lives – so much of this is missing and sometimes we ache for things to be the way they were. We love to see our homes and our church as places of acceptance and welcome where people come and feel welcomed, feel accepted by the people of God.

The time will come – we are not sure when – that we can again gather church in our church building. But it won’t be church as we know it, with smaller gatherings, physical distancing, no hugs or handshakes and for some time, strict limits on morning tea.

Will our sense of fellowship, of welcome, of hospitality, be diminished?

The important thing is the sharing of our authentic selves, and maybe as we rethink how we are to re-gather, we think beyond “church” as being mainly about worship and liturgy and singing. When I have spoken with some of the children in our faith community, what seems more important to them is in seeing the adults for whom they have respect and affection, (and of having a cocoa and cake and maybe one of Eva’s scones with jam!)

Maybe there is a tendency to elevate what has gone on where the worship and liturgy has taken place. But let us agree that the liturgy continues over fellowship and cuppa – in whatever form that might take in the future. I’m struck by the story about the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Jesus shared biblical and theological truths with them on the way – which is what we do in worship – yet – when and where did they recognise him? Over the meal.

Hospitality after church and in our homes – and more broadly, is a vital part of reaching out with the love of Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews said, “Don’t forget to be kind to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it!” and we have Jesus’ words “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me… Whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.”

There is an old story from world war two, that emphasises these words of Jesus. There was a statue of Jesus in the shell of a bombed-out church. The figure of Jesus was portrayed in the statue as reaching out to the world. However, in the devastation of the bombing, the hands of the statue were broken off. For a long time afterwards, the statue stood as it was found – without hands. But then a sign was hung from the outstretched arms: “He has no hands but yours!” How true.

We, the church, the members of Christ’s body, are his hands, his mouth, his feet in our beautiful Valley. Hospitality is using our hands, our minds, our mouth, our hearts as Jesus would want them used in loving one another even as he loves us.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Gracious and healing God, we thank you for the many ways that you enrich our lives – giving us hope in the midst of despair; comfort and strength to live, when we are at our most vulnerable. Be with all today who are suffering – living with brokenness and pain.

We particularly think of people who have suffered, harm, abuse, and lacking basic needs. May your Spirit be a comforting and healing presence in their lives. May they find peace and nurture within relationships and communities of safety and trust. Open our eyes and give us wisdom to see where we can bring your healing and hope in our relationships, neighbourhoods and communities as your hopeful and compassionate people.

Give us courage, insight, power and passion that we might work with you for justice and liberation for all.

Lord, hear us Lord, Amen

From UCA Assembly Healing and Hope, 2018 (adapted)

BENEDICTION

May the welcoming love of God embrace you;

The grace and peace of Jesus Christ fill you;

The renewing power of the Holy Spirit refresh you.

Photo of Bill Lang

Written by Bill Lang

Bill Lang is secretary of the church council and convenor of the communications group. He has been a regular preacher at TUC since he and Jenny joined the congregation in 1975. He is a presbytery representative, and a member of the Karralika outreach team and the Child Care Advisory Group.

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